Our gut is a fascinating organ. True, its most prominent role is digesting our food, but did you know it is also an integral part of our immune system? As a primary entry point for pathogens, our digestive system contains over 70% of our immune cells as well as a vast array of proteins, tissues, and organs, which work together to defend the body against harmful bacteria, infectious disease and toxins.
Our digestive system contains millions and millions of bacteria; in fact for every one human cell we have, there are 10 bacteria to match. While some of these are disease causing (pathogenic), the vast majority of them offer us health benefits (probiotics), and are a chief ally to another important aspect of our immune system, our gut mucosa.
While we are learning more about the role of these healthy bacteria everyday, one of their main roles is to fight disease and provide us with protection from infectious causing agents. There are two ways in which probiotics achieve this. Firstly, certain species of good bacteria are acid forming, secreting either lactic or acetic acid, which drops the pH of our intestines, and creates inhospitable living conditions for pathogenic bacteria. Secondly they play an important role in helping the cells of our intestine maintain their barrier function, creating a physical barrier, which (ideally) is impenetrable to foreign invaders. When our microbiota (i.e. the makeup of our bacteria species) shifts from “good” to “bad”, the pH of our intestines becomes more neutral, and the barrier function of our intestine is diminished. This allows pathogenic bacteria, yeasts, and fungi to proliferate in number and penetrate to our systemic system setting the stage for infectious disease to take hold and chronic inflammation to ensue.
Taking care of our “good” bacteria is critical to preventing both infectious disease as well as those ailments that are rooted in chronic inflammation (i.e. heart disease, type II diabetes, dementia, depression). Just a few changes to your lifestyle and diet can go along way in supporting healthy population of the good guys, and keeping your immune system in tiptop shape.
Increase Intake of Fermented Foods:
Fermented foods have long been a staple in the human diet, and before refrigeration were an important way of preventing spoilage. Fermentation is a process that unlocks nutrients in the ingredients that didn’t exist before, as well as amplifies other ingredient benefits and promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. In fact, traditional diets were up to 30% fermented! In today’s world, it’s not very realistic for it to make up that much of your diet. Supplementation is any easy and time efficient way to increase your intake. Try adding a scoop of greens+ whole body NUTRITION or fermented vegan proteins+ to your morning smoothie as an easy way to increase your intake of healthy bacteria. You can also include fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, and natural sourdough breads in your diet to get your daily dose of fermented fare.
Increase Your Intake of Fibre:
We’re not just taking any type of fibre here (although fibre is your friend!) but specifically prebiotic fibre. This specific type of fibre acts as a source of food for our healthy bacteria, which helps them grow and sustain their maintenance. Not all fibre in this regard is created equal, and some unfermented sources of prebiotic fibre like inulin or FOS may cause bloating or intestinal discomfort. VitaFiber™, a fermented source of prebiotic fibre has been shown to be a great source of prebiotic fibre, but without any of the discomfort that other prebiotic fibres may cause. Find it in our gut-loving greens+ whole body NUTRITION formula.
Filter Your Water:
Our everyday tap water may be safe to drink, but the use of chlorine to ensure we don’t consume any “bad” bacteria that can make us sick, also impacts our “good” bacteria that can keep us healthy. Even bathing and showering in chlorinated water can have an impact due to the inhalation of steam. Simply adding a filtration system to both your drinking and shower water is great way to remove chlorine from your water sources, and reduce your exposure to chlorine and chlorine gas.
Ditch The Processed Foods:
Processed foods contain nutritionally devoid ingredients and a host of chemical additives, preservatives, colours and flavours, which mess with our bacteria populations, and do not contain any of the nutrients they need to flourish. Added to that many of these foods contain large amounts of sugar, which contribute to the proliferation of bad bacteria and the overgrowth of yeast, further impacting the populations of our good bacteria. Be sure to choose whole foods that contain a variety of colours to optimize health and nutrition. When in doubt look at the label, if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t be eating it!
Our gut is our second brain and is very much connected to our “first” brain by way of the vagus nerve. While many of us are aware of this connection during acute situations, like when we are nervous and have butterflies in our tummy, these two are in constant communication. Stress in particular, has a profound impact on our digestive health and sets the wheels in motion for the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals, digestive secretions, and changes our gut motility, all of which have an impact on our gut microflora. Life is busy, but it is important to take some time every day for some stress busting activities like walking, writing, or deep breathing.
Today’s Dietician Gut Health & Immunity – It’s all about good bacteria. Accessed Online:http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/060112p58.shtml
Food Matters. Your Gut & Immune System Connection. Accessed Online: http://www.foodmatters.tv/articles-1/your-gut-and-immune-system-connection-recipe-giveaway
Science Museum. Who Am I? What do T-cells & B-cells do? Accessed online:http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/whoami/findoutmore/yourbody/whatdoesyourimmunesystemdo/howdoesyourimmunesystemwork/whatdot-andb-cellsdo.aspx